Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors?
- Monday, July 16, 2012
Louv tells of interviewing thousands of children in the course of previous research. At one point, he received this candid comment from a fourth-grade boy in San Diego: “I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
In the experience of all too many children, the electrical outlets are the determining reality. We have allowed our children to be so seduced by entertainment and information technologies that many believe that without electricity, experience is virtually impossible.
As one mom noted, children now spend much of their time watching. “We’ve become a more sedentary society,” she observes. “When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, we were always outdoors. The kids who stayed indoors were the odd ones. We didn’t have any huge wide-open spaces, but we were always outdoors on the streets -- in the vacant lots, jumping rope, or playing baseball or hopscotch. We were out there playing even after we got older.”
Many of today’s children show little inclination to go outdoors at all. Louv describes the environment as experienced by many American children as the “third frontier” -- an environment that is characterized by increasing distance from nature, an intellectualized understanding of the animal world, and a disconnection in the human consciousness between food and its origins.
That last point is of particular interest. Louv observes that many children have little knowledge of how food is produced. Lacking any experience with farming, livestock, and the food chain, these children simply assume that food is produced by something like a factory process. Young people may join animal rights groups without knowing anything about the actual animals involved. Louv argues that many college students become vegetarians without understanding that vegetables and vegetable byproducts are not manufactured indoors.
Richard Louv is a keen observer -- watching our culture and taking careful note of how nature has become an abstraction for many of us. Why are so many Americans putting television and video screens in their vehicles? Louv observes: “The highway’s edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, children’s early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the backseat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edges -- all that was and still is available to the eye. This was the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie.”
These days, many parents allow kids to start the DVD player as soon as the car hits the interstate.
Interestingly, Louv also points to the epidemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), suggesting that a lack of contact with nature may be, at least in part, a cause for the attention deficit and disconnectedness experienced by many young children -- especially young boys. He suggests that a “nature-deficit disorder” may be behind the phenomenon now routinely diagnosed as ADHD. Louv goes so far as to suggest that a dose of real contact with the natural world may be more powerful than Ritalin in helping children to overcome patterns of hyperactivity and distraction. The same prescription would likely help parents as well.
Richard Louv is a champion of nature, and Last Child in the Woods is a powerful call for human beings to reconnect with the natural world. It would do us all a world of good to take a walk in the woods, to play outdoors, and to remember that the world is filled with a variety of flora and fauna that defies the imagination and thrills the senses.
Last Child in the Woods is a fascinating book, though at times, Louv leans toward a form of nature mysticism. Nevertheless, Christians will read this book to great profit, remembering that the biblical worldview presents an affirmation of the goodness of creation. After all, Christians know that every atom and molecule of creation testifies of the glory of God.
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